February 2012

Compact Discs, and Why I Buy Them

I always buy my music the old way: on compact discs. Except for a few occasions where I buy it the OLD way, ie. on vinyl. I’ve stopped buying it the Old way though; those silly cassette tapes are better left behind.

I also buy music frequently, and often have it delivered to my office instead of home (saves me a trip to the post office). This means that more people get exposed to this ancient fashion of mine, and hence more people ask the question: why don’t you just buy it on iTunes? Having thought about it, here are my reasons:

Better quality. I often say this one instinctively, and people often don’t find the counter-argument before the conversation has moved on (mostly to the music on the CD). However, this reason is bullock as I don’t posses an audio system that would allow me to tell the difference. Moreover, the first thing I do is always to rip the CD to iTunes and from then on listen to it from there.

It’s cheaper than iTunes. This one is often true actually. As far as I can tell, the price on iTunes is more or less fixed, at least on a few steps. Amazon on the other hand often lowers the price shortly after release (it may be more expensive at first though, meaning I have to be a bit more patient).

The artwork & lyrics. Putting on an album and throwing myself on the couch with the artwork and lyrics sheet is a favourite. I could look up these things on the computer but I find that it takes my mind away from the album — there is always something else to look up when the fingers are already on the keyboard.

The album as a whole. This is related to the above reason, and comes from the fact that I like to see the album as a coherent unit with related songs. This is not always the case of cause, but buy the CD prevents me from buying just the tunes that are catchy at first (but also from skipping the truly crappy tracks).

Ever-lasting. Although logically silly, I find this reason quite powerful. It is the satisfaction of knowing that I can always make a new rip if the hard-drive fails. That the CD contains all the information, nothing is lost due to compression, should I one day get a proper sound system. But most importantly, that I’m leaving a trace behind for me to re-discover years from now (while this could be the case with hard-drives as well, experience tells me that what is on old hard-drives is left on old hard-drives) — I feel less in control with the digital trace, even if it fully controlled by me.

No lock-in. The CD does not lock you in to iTunes or Spotify. No-one can take it away by the click of a button or the expiration of an account. Although I may be forced to abandon CDs within the next 20 years, I am avoided the lock-in for as long as possible. 

As a final remark, let me note that I have recently been challenged a couple of times on this ancient style of buying music. Firstly, I would like to buy the Rules album by Civil Civic but have so far only been able to find it as an MP3 download. I understand that this is perhaps a cheaper option for the band, but still. Secondly, my copy of The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon contained a paper slip telling me to go download two bonus songs not on the CD. I can’t judge if this is because they were added after the CDs where burned or if it is because they made a deal with the download website, but it annoys me a bit.